Losing the Christmas War
I don’t mean the Christmas War that pits the ACLU against Fox News in a war of frivolous lawsuits and inflammatory verbiage over carols in public schools, crèches on the town square, and office greetings. That one actually is showing some signs of an unexpected devolution into common sense. I mean the struggle of Catholics, and of other Christians with an eye on the traditional liturgical calendar, to observe Advent for the four weeks preceding December 25th and to observe Christmas for the following twelve days.
The carols I heard at Mass this morning—“What Child Is This?” and “Once in Royal David’s City”—made me realize that I had not heard, which means that I haven’t played at home, any Christmas music since Christmas Day. This in turn made me realize that I’ve almost given in to the commercial American Christmas calendar.
When our children were young my wife and I made a pretty serious effort to observe Advent. We had Advent calendars and Advent wreaths with candles, and a little family liturgy which alternated scripture readings with verses of “O Come Emmanuel.” We delayed Christmas decorations and the Christmas tree until the last few days before the 25th. We tried tactics like celebrating St. Nicholas Day on December 6th to give the children a brief bit of early Christmas, and, on the other side, postponing some of the present-giving until Epiphany, or stringing it out over several days.
It was always a struggle, a swim against the current which begins the Christmas season no later than the day after Thanksgiving and ends it on December 26th, and the most vexing part of it was that we weren’t resisting only the prevailing non-Catholic culture, but also the practice of most Catholics. I sometimes found it difficult to conceal my irritation with Catholic co-workers who chided me for procrastination when they learned that on December 23rd I still hadn’t put up the Christmas tree, or for laziness when they learned that on January 2nd I still hadn’t taken it down.
Was it worth the struggle? I don’t know—define “worth it.” It was the right thing to do, I’m certain. The crucial thing is that it was a struggle, and now that the children are mostly grown, the motivation to keep it up is waning. Nobody paddles against the current without a goal, and our goal, preeminently, was to teach Advent to our children, to teach them to live in the ways of the faith. I suppose we (I, at any rate) have lost sight of the connection it might have to our own spiritual life. I paid little attention to Advent this year, and acted as if Christmas was over on December 26th.
I sometimes think the general over-busyness of contemporary life is really more of a threat to Christian life than the more obvious snares of lust, gluttony, and avarice which are always being advertised to us. And there were further complications this year: an illness and a death, the complications and after-effects of which are still continuing. Next year I intend to take up the struggle again. There’s no reason why my wife and I can’t light the candles on the Advent wreath and find the copies of those family prayers, and it won’t matter if we don’t sing very well. Meanwhile, the Christmas tree is still up and maybe I’ll get a bit of time to listen to some Christmas music while I sit and look at it. And then it’s onward to Lent.Pre-TypePad